Renee Morgan-Saks is a 24 year old native of Washington Heights, New York and a member of NOW-NYC. She is currently working at a womenâ€™s rights legal advocacy organization and plans to attend law school to study public interest law.
Don Imus is back on the air. Not that I need to remind you, but hereâ€™s a little recap of what lead to the Imus debacle:
IMUS: That’s some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos andâ€”
McGUIRK: Some hard-core hos…
IMUS: That’s some nappy-headed hos thereâ€¦. And the girls from Tennessee, they all look cuteâ€¦
McGUIRK: A Spike Lee thingâ€¦
McGUIRK: The Jigaboos vs. the Wannabes â€” that movie that he had.
â€œThat movie that he hadâ€? is School Daze. In the film, the Wannabees, like â€œthe girls from Tennessee,â€? are considered good-looking because they are light-skinned with â€œgood hairâ€? (read: straight or wavy, most likely from being chemically processed). The Jigaboos, on the other hand, who have darker skin and natural hair (â€œnappyâ€?), are considered less attractive.
In this context, by using â€œnappy-headedâ€? to describe the natural hair texture of African Americans, Imus suggests that Black people in their natural state are ugly.
In a culture where women are largely valued on their physical appearance, those who donâ€™t fit conventional standards of beauty are deemed less worthy of respect. It is only natural that many of us have internalized these ideals.
And the representation of Black people in the media doesnâ€™t help Black women develop a healthy self image or contribute to others forming a positive view of Black people. Stereotypical images of Black men and women have been fairly consistent from early 20th century minstrelsy, through the Blaxploitation era of the 70â€™s, to today.
Letâ€™s return to the Imus incident. In addition to his blatant racism and sexism, I find Imusâ€™ claim to have learned â€œnappy-headed hosâ€? from hip-hop music disturbing. Instead of taking responsibility for his misogynist and racist comments, he attempted to scapegoat the Hip-Hop community (and Black American culture by association). I find it hard to believe that a 67 year old white man learned racism and sexism from Hip-Hop.
But letâ€™s not get it twisted; Hip-Hop culture is a subset of American culture. The racial stereotypes, homophobia and degradation of women in mainstream hip-hop are reflective of American culture, not the other way around. Racism and sexism are American values, not ones unique to the Hip-Hop community. Of course, this doesnâ€™t mean we should sit back and listen. NOW-NYCâ€™s Women, Girls & Media Committee has taken to the streets at Virgin Records and music conglomerate Viacom to protest
the mainstreaming of racism and sexism in the music industry.
And to help refocus the spotlight on Imus, NOW-NYC took its activism to the airwaves, calling for him to be fired and rallying members to send letters of protest to CBS Radio and MSNBC.
A few months later, the issue of misogynistic language was revived in the media when Isiah Thomas, coach of the New York Knicks, admitted in a taped deposition that while itâ€™s unacceptable for a white man (think: Don Imus) to call a woman a â€œbitch,â€? it was tolerable for Black men to do so. Under no circumstance is anyone entitled to call a woman a bitch. Nor is it acceptable to rationalize the abuse and disrespect of Black women with racist stereotypes, as Thomas did.
An insult is an insult, no matter who says it.
Which is exactly why influential figures in the media need to set an example for their audiences and put a stop to the acceptability of sexism and racism â€“ under any circumstances.